DIY Network

Creative Home Theaters

Home Theater Design Basics (page 1 of 3)

Learn how to lay out a home theater and what materials you should use in order to get the best the visual and sound quality.

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You're ready for a home theater set-up, and you're quivering with anticipation at the thought of a fully immersive movie experience right in your own home. But there's that one nagging question:

Where do you begin?

There are so many variables to consider, both technical and financial. Consider, for example, that a home theater can set you back anywhere from $1,000 to $25,000 — and more. Or that Amazon lists more than 700 possibilities for home theater speakers. With so many options, rigging up your home theater can be a head-spinning exercise.

But take heart. Even the most non-tech-savvy home theater newbie can do a whole lot to maximize their home theater experience, no matter what the price range. Here's what you need to know.

THE ROOM

Most likely, you know where you'll locate your set-up. It might be the main living area, a spare bedroom or a basement movie palace complete with a popcorn machine. While each of these spaces has special considerations in terms of comfort and sound quality, there are many common factors.

• Room shape. Square rooms tend to produce odd harmonic distortions. If you have the choice, opt for a rectangular room, and plan to place your display screen and main speakers along a short wall for best sound projection.

• Windows. The fewer, the better. Windows are a double bugaboo: They're hard surfaces that reflect sound-causing audio distortion, and they admit light that can produce reflections on your viewing surface.

Heavy curtains and shades help, but that means closing blinds or drapes every time you turn on your home theater system. If you must, opt for blackout-style window treatments that track tight against window jambs to seal out light.

• Walls. If you're tempted to staple inverted egg cartons all over your walls to muffle sound, relax. Regular drywall is a decent surface appropriate for home theater walls. However, break up large flat surfaces with furniture or drapes. Don't add framed art with glass — it's too reflective of sound and light.

Concrete or concrete block is simply a no-no. If you're setting up in a basement with concrete walls, consider installing studs and drywall.

Other options include acoustic wall panels designed specifically for home theaters. These panels are called "sound absorption" panels, and they help modulate low and high frequencies, preventing echoes. Panels come as 1' x 1' or 2' x 2' squares costing $4 to $20 per square foot.

At $2 to $4, peel-and-stick carpet tiles are the budget-minded alternative. You just don't want to end up with a room that looks like Lloyd and Harry's shaggy van from Dumb and Dumber.

Remember sound abatement cuts both ways. Controlling the sound in your home theater room means peace and quiet for the rest of your house.

• Flooring. Wall-to-wall carpet, with a new cushy pad underneath, absorbs ambient sound and contributes to coziness. Kids like to sprawl on the floor to watch stuff, and you never know when some romantic comedies might get you and a loved one rolling on the carpet. With laughter, of course.

• Wall/room color. Paint your walls as dark as you can stand them: Bright colors reflect light that's especially distracting when there's a brightly lit scene on the screen. Stay away from gloss or semi-gloss sheens, choosing reflection-fighting eggshell or flat paint instead.

Go with neutral browns, tans and olive. Stronger colors, such as red and blue, will give an odd cast to any ambient light and may affect the colors you see on your screen.

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